Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 31 May 2010

The greatest spectator sport

Hay Festival, Woodstock of the Mind according to Bill Clinton, who spoke here several years ago, continues to throw pearls before swine.

As Chief Swine I fell in love with the interpreter to the last three French presidents, explored the Credit Crunch with Mrs Moneypenny of The Financial Times, watched Kazuo Ishiguro discourse gravely on his latest novel (?) Nocturnes, received instructions on being a philosopher from A. C Grayling, was disappointed by Lord Robert Winston on the downsides of science and am now waiting to hear the editor of The Guardian interview Harry Evans former editor of The Sunday Times. More follows.

The star turn was a double-header in which a steely lawyer, Philippe Sands, interviewed first Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the UN, then Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, present French ambassador to the UK, both involved in the build-up to the Iraq war. The irrestible force meeting two immovable objects as Sands relentlessly yet politely questioned two of the world’s foremost diplomats. You’ve seen all that on telly, you say. Oh no you haven’t.

These weren’t a couple of politicos lying their heads off. In precise words they described how each did everything possible, within their professional remit, to forestall the outbreak of war. Dates, official documents and witness testimony were invoked and the answers arrived in language that was all the more forceful for being emotionless. Judicial theatre at the highest level. Hay – you done it again.

HAY, FINAL DAY (for us). Anthony Beevor: (Stalingrad, Spanish Civil War) How the modern historian works and why the digital age will make things harder. Harold Evans (former Sunday Times editor). Why still-photo journalism matters in this video age; what can and can’t be published. Mike Mansfield (Left-leaning lawyer known for defending unpopular clients). Fuming about that morning’s news re. Israeli attack on aid flotilla. Ian Stewart: An attempt to simplify and popularise maths – total disaster. Martin Evans (Nobel-prize-winning laureate). Why stem cell research matters and what it may lead to.


Plutarch said...

The politicos sound as though they were real people. But there is a suggestion that you witnessed some kind of satirical farce put on as part of the festival, which sounds from your description as good as they say it is. Why can't we have something just a little like that in Tunbridge Wells instead of third rate rock music?

Avus said...

You obviously enjoyed truffling up the pearls, BB.
Loved the magnificent, ancient bicycle in the image (but I would, wouldn't I?)

Relucent Reader said...

Fascinating.Wish we had something like that here. But then the Tea Partyites would gather to throw their feces, spoiling the fun.
Ishiguro alone would be worth the price of admission for this piggy. I read his Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans. Enjoyed the quiet repression of the former and the locale of the latter.
Nice to hear of a lawyer being polite while steely. Ours are stealy without being polite.

Rouchswalwe said...

If only we had such an eye-opening event nearby! Living here, I often notice that the news is dumbed down for us. One has to fight to get unfiltered information from primary sources, and I find that so few of us have the resources or the inclination to put in the effort needed. All too often, the preferance is for the convenient, pre-sweetened micro-wave meal over the gathering of the freshest ingredients for a higher-quality meal.

Hattie said...

I had never heard of the Hay Festival before now. It's a wonderful concept. I'm very tired of music festivals. If I'm going to sit on the ground and be uncomfortable I want substance to make my sacrifice worthwhile!

Barrett Bonden said...

All: Once Hay was known as simply a literary festival. Now it includes science, politics, language, law, music, the plastic arts, etc. But all of them with Hay's special twist and addressed to people capable of putting two thoughts together. What is often astonishing is the high and informed quality of the questions from the floor.

Plutarch: I had never thought of diplomats as a genus before. Watching them I was struck by their very pure use of language. Also bearing in mind the shocking responsibility that this languiage carries.

Avus: I am sated with a diet of pearls.

RR: With that steely/stealy quote you would definitely be a candidate for Hay.

RW (zS): You're right. The professor who did the stem cells presentation (V. v. technical) was an American professor working at Cambridge.

Hattie: As the Michelin Guide says in grading its restaurants: Il vaut le d├ętour. Il vaut le voyage (It's worth deviating from your journey. Or (much better) It's worth making a special journey.) Hay comes into the latter category.

Julia said...

I'd be interested in hearing more about your take on diplomatic language. What we find here is that though EU ambassadors are quite masters at it, their 2nds speak much more to the point and are often even ribald and, on occasion, nationalistic. US ambassadors are figureheads who frequently forget the name of the country they are in, but their 2nds assume the language of their EU ambassador counterparts. And so it goes, on down the line!

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Every word means something yet both managed, within these confines, to speak in a lively and frequently dramatic way. Both knew their topic through and through, down to the most piddling details. Both are of course required for their countries and so must maintain inhumanly high standards to avoid distortion, over generalising, being bellicose, being timid, etc, etc. Both represent a standard of communication all of us should aspire to in our conversation.

The Crow said...

Sounds like an event I would very much enjoy. Wish we had something like it around here!